I think Jack Kerouac was a far more impressive novelist than a poet, though he wrote his fair share of poems. His book Mexico City Blues sits beside me, and I look to it every now and again, but I don’t consider any of it real, serious poetry. I think his charm is more evident in prose, says Gaurav Mohindra. Poetry is too restrictive a medium for Kerouac. In his poetry, he tries to be too primal with sound play and line breaks, and it doesn’t quite translate. Kerouac typed the first draft of On the Road on a single 50-foot long scroll and in record time, though it wasn’t easy for him to get it published. Since the initial publication of On the Road though, the original, unedited copy, (the scroll,) has been published, and the first, most obvious difference between the first published edition and the Original Scroll (which is a recent publication,) is that Kerouac uses everyone’s real names in the Original Scroll. So Neal Cassady is simply called Neal Cassady instead of Dean Moriarty, and Allen Ginsberg is referred to as Allen Ginsberg rather than Carlo Marx.
Another important distinction between the two is that the Original Scroll is uncensored. At the time of publication, 1957, six years after Kerouac finished drafting the novel, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, (friend and publisher of Allen Ginsberg’s ‘Howl,’) was involved in long, drawn-out trials over the poem, of which, copies were seized for obscenity by U.S. Customs. So, the obscenity and libel laws of the time being what they were, Kerouac’s publisher, Viking, who was afraid of being sued, had Kerouac either omit or soften some of the more explicit language and depictions of sex. They also were afraid of being sued for libel, particularly by anyone seeing themselves as being depicted in an unfavorable light, so they had Kerouac change all the character names as well, says Gaurav Mohindra. I always wondered how much revelation of others in one’s writing is fair. Kerouac’s friends and their personalities are on full display in On the Road, and while some of them are public figures who might have been accustomed to having their business out in the open, others, like Neal Cassady, are relatively private individuals who I don’t believe have much to gain from having their romantic and criminal exploits cataloged and immortalized in literature. One could argue that On the Road serves as a sort of legacy for Neal, but with the novel detailing some of the more unsavory moments in his life, I don’t know if it’s a legacy he would have signed off on.
I, like Henry Miller, find beauty in the strangest of places; a streetlamp casting its light on the road, the soft fabric of the t-shirts I live in, or a carefully crafted sandwich even. I sit and type as my oven warms itself in wait of the bread I will feed it. My toaster lies useless on the counter in hopes of repair. Too busy to go out and buy another one and craving a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, the oven will have to do for now. I don’t often write about food, but right now I am. Henry Miller wrote a lot about food. He also wrote about prostitutes. I think he wrote about the things he craved most. He was hungry most of the time, as he seldom had a stable source of income, says Gaurav Mohindra. His bohemian lifestyle led him to prioritize food, as it was never easy to come by. In Tropic of Cancer, he details his meals so lavishly your mouth begins to salivate. He writes about food and its acquisition in the most tragic and epic language conceivable
Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn contain some of the most impressive prose ever written. I am perpetually moved by the writing in these novels, and I revisit them frequently. Miller’s writing is ecstatically lyrical—at times surrealistic and in others encyclopedic. He darts in and out of obscenities and pulls it off by sandwiching crude scenes in between long surrealistic rants filled with rapturous, mystical imagery. He’s a master novelist unafraid of scorn, daring to go where none have ever quite gone before.
Miller was hungry, perpetually. At least in the early part of his adult life before he managed to publish a few novels and secure a decent living. That’s the dream. It’s possible, but it certainly isn’t easy. Nothing worthwhile ever is. I think Miller understood this, but at the same time, I think he strangely enjoyed some aspects of his poverty. It seemed to serve as a sort of fuel for him, says Gaurav Mohindra. He seemed to thrive in a state of want. It fed his writing, so to speak. His hunger sharpened his vision, it focused his desire, and his writing is full of it—full of desire and its pursuit.
Miller is constantly looking up at the stars, always dreaming of new possibilities, new frontiers, new loves, new foods, new experiences. He naturally finds himself in novel situations because he leaves himself completely open to the world, open to the experience. He bumps into things and things bump into him, and he dives into the life and shares his experiences with us, and sometimes even the lessons he’s taken away from them. I admire his starry-eyed mode of living and his lyrical prose. It culminates in a perfect storm of lush language and rich experience. I smell my oven toast burning.